“Anti-immigration walls fall down sooner or later, they are not the solution”

Vatican Insider

Answering journalists’ questions during the in-flight interview from Philadelphia to Rome, he said: some bishops “did cover up abuse. I can understand those families who are unable to forgive the abuse of a son or daughter.” The reform on marital nullity does not mean we are introducing “Catholic divorce”. “Conscientious objection is a right even for government officials.” “I love the Chinese people and I would like to visit China.” “Me, a star? I am the servant of the servants of God.” On the bombings in Syria, he said: “I am not up to speed with the current situation but when I hear about bombings I say: this is not right.” About the mayor of Rome turning up in the US to see the Pope, Francis said: “I didn’t invite Marino to Philadelphia”


The barbed wire fences, the walls to stop migrants “fall down sooner or later, all of them fall down, they are not the solution” and they exacerbate hatred. Pope Francis said this during the interview with journalists on board the American Airlines flight from Philadelphia to Rome. The Pope talked about clerical sex abuse against minors, saying he understands those families that cannot forgive; he spoke about the issue of communion for remarried divorcees and the recent reform on marital nullity, explaining that it does not equate to “Catholic divorce”. He said he loves the Chinese people and that he would like to visit China. Regarding the US government official who refused to sign the document legalising a same-sex union, Francis recalled that conscientious objections is a human right. He also denied point blank that he had anything to do with the presence of Rome’s mayor, Ignazio Marino, at one of the events in the US: “I did not invite Marino to Philadelphia, is that clear?”

What surprised you about the US and what was different to how you had imagined it? What challenges does the Church in the US face?

It was my first time there, I had never been before. I was surprised by the people’s warmth – they were so friendly, it was beautiful – and also by the differences between Washington where I received a warm but slightly more formal welcome, New York which was overflowing and Philadelphia where people were very expressive. Three different types of welcome. I was very much struck by the goodness and hospitality show to me and by the piety of the religious celebrations – you could see people praying. Thanks to God it all went well, there were no provocations, no insults, nothing unpleasant happened. The challenge is this: we have to continue working with these faithful as we have been doing so far, in times of joy and difficulty, when there is no work, when there is sickness. The challenge of today’s Church is one it has always faced: being close to the people of the US. Not removed from them, but close to them. And this is a challenge that the Church in the US is well aware of.

Philadelphia has been through some very difficult times what with the sex abuse scandal. Many found it surprising that in your speech to bishops in Washington you offered words of consolation to the Church. Why did you feel the need to show compassion to the bishops?

In Washington I addressed all bishops of the US. I felt the need to express my compassion to them because a terrible thing happened and many of them have suffered because they did not know and when it all came out they suffered a great deal: they are men of the Church, men of prayer, true pastors. Using a word from the Revelation, I said to them: I know you have come forth from the great tribulation. What happened was a great tribulation. Then there were the words I addressed to those who suffered the abuse: it was almost a sacrilege! Abuse is witnessed everywhere: in the family, in the local neighbourhood, in schools, in gyms. But when a priest commits an act of abuse it is very serious indeed because a priest’s vocation is to raise that boy or girl to love God, so that they grow up to be good people. Instead, he crushed this with evil and betrayed his vocation, the Lord’s calling. Those in the Church who covered up the abuse are also guilty and that includes bishops. It is a terrible thing and the message I meant to get across through the words of comfort I offered bishops was not: don’t worry, it’s nothing. But: this was a terrible thing, I imagine you must have wept a great deal.

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